LABELS: Radio Netherlands Music
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Anthology of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Vol. 1 Ð 1935-50
WORKS: Works by Wagner, Mahler, Busoni, Ravel, Strauss, Beethoven, Franck,
PERFORMER: Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra/various conductors & soloists
CATALOGUE NO: 97017 (distr. +31 35 672 4478; www.rnmusic.nl)
The 15 years documented by this capacious, wide-ranging collection of broadcast recordings cover the last decade of Willem Mengelberg’s half-century at the helm of the Concertgebouw Orchestra and extend to 1950, the era of Eduard van Beinum. Over the course of this period the orchestra’s sonority improved noticeably in mellifluousness and blend. Conversely, the use of string portamento, often prominent in earlier performances, largely disappears by the later ones. Although there is no steady chronological trend toward conductorial objectivity, performances featuring extensive tempo manipulations are few and far between – the only striking exercises in such a style are Mengelberg’s billowing, ecstatic account of Franck’s D minor Symphony (1940), a fluidly paced Mozart G minor Symphony from Eugen Jochum (1943), Wilhelm Furtwängler’s characteristic inflections in the First Symphonies of Brahms and Beethoven (1950) and intriguing performances of Honegger, Haydn and Brahms led by Jan Koetsier (the orchestra’s second-in-command from 1942 to 1948).
Of the remaining conductors, Bruno Walter makes a particularly strong impression, combining forceful despair and sweet release in Wagner’s Flying Dutchman Overture (1936) and offering a tumultuous Mahler First (1947). Under Walter’s baton, Adolf Busch plays Busoni’s Violin Concerto (1936) with great fire and integrity, but Paul Wittgenstein lacks the technical scope and imaginative flair to make much of his most famous commission, Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand (1937). Pierre Monteux is represented by a fine 1939 concert of French music and presides over the first performance of Hendrik Andriessen’s Organ Concerto in 1950, with the composer as soloist.
Other notable performances include Rafael Kubelík’s Shostakovich Seventh (1950), Reger’s Böcklin Suite under Hermann Abendroth (1941), Otto Klemperer’s Bruckner Fourth (1947), Paul Hindemith leading his own Symphony in E flat (1949) and Erich Kleiber’s Beethoven Fifth (1950). There’s a whole raft of little-known music by Malipiero, Wagenaar, Rossellini and the like, with instructive podium appearances by Paray, Karajan, Boult and van Otterloo. Finally, a curiosity that reflects the political turmoil in Europe at that time: during the ‘Abschied’ of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (1939), a woman loudly proclaims to the conductor, ‘Deutschland über alles, Herr Schuricht’.